Friday, June 25, 2010

Helen McConnell of Portland car-lite profile

Tell me a little bit about you (name, age, occupation, car-free or
Car-lite, where you live).

“I'm Helen McConnell, I live in Portland, Oregon. I've been around for 52 plus years, but I'm about 39. My occupation is encouraging and empowering people to live their best life. That includes cycling and having fun. I'm employed full-time as the Food and Beverage Manager at Portland Center Stage - a professional, live theater here in Portland. I'm also employed part-time at Nossa Familia Coffee Company, where I am the Community Events Coordinator. That means I set up the booth at the Farmer's Markets, and at cycling events where we serve our outstanding bean.”

“I'm a gardener and urban beekeeper - very Portland, very hippie. I am the mother of four (yes four) teenagers. Well, my oldest daughter will be 20 this week. I'm an amateur photographer, blogger and writer.”

“I am carlite, although I rarely drive anymore. I had to register my motorized vehicle today and vowed never to do it again! As soon as I owe less on that car than I can sell it for, it will be someone else's beast. I will likely continue to use ZipCar for some things - like a trip to the beach or the Gorge. I love to hike and backpack - sometimes a car is necessary.”

When did you start using a bicycle for transportation and what effect
has it had on your life?

“I started commuting by bike when I started working at Portland Center Stage 2 1/2 years ago. It's 4 a mile ride from home to work, and I can literally ride my bike right into the building and to my office door, or to the secure indoor bike parking area. PCS is located in The Armory, which is a LEED Certified Platinum building. That means we're really "green." Employees are encouraged not to drive to work.”

“None of my kids drive. They ride, walk, or ride public transportation.
One of my daughters got a new bike when she graduated from high school.”

“I volunteer at the Community Cycling Center, and recently took an Intermediate Bike Maintenance class. I'm building a bike in my basement.”

“Once I started commuting by bike, my entire lifestyle changed to a more relaxed, healthier one. I didn't really change my lifestyle, it just changed. I spend way less money on useless junk, because I no longer go to places like Target just for something to do. I love to ride to the symphony, or out dancing, or to an art show. I carry a change of shoes, and lock my helmet on my bike, or check it at the coat check. I am in the best shape of my life - physically, emotionally, and spiritually.”

(View of Helen's daily commute)
Please describe a typical day in your cycling life?

“I bike to work. Waterproof makeup is a must for stylish cycling :). I check the weather - current and forecast for the day, so I know how to dress. I ride to work EVERY day. So if it's 20 degrees out (which it was many days this winter), I layer up in mostly merino wool- it's quite a production - and get on my "city bike," so I can wear boots and two pair of wool socks. On a warmer day, I throw on a skirt and a tank top, and ride my road bike - with cleated shoes or cleated sandals (KEEN makes a women-specific cleat-sandal). If it's raining (which it has been a LOT lately), I add my Showers Pass rain jacket
- made here in Portland, it's gray and tweed-like, quite stylish and is waterproof and reflective.”

“I have a pleasant ride to work - especially when I zip by traffic. My route takes me across the Broadway Bridge over the Willamette River, to the West side of town. I always arrive in a good mood, because I have just filled my lungs with fresh air, heard the sounds around me, felt the wind (and rain) on my face, and cleared my head. I park my bike and take off a layer or two of clothing, change shoes into something a bit more stylish for work (sometimes), foof up my helmet hair, check my make up, and have my coffee. Then I take care of business. If I have errands to run during the day, I either walk, jump on my bike, or use a ZipCar for big stuff.”

“My part-time job is back on the East side, so I ride across the Burnside Bridge to get there. I'm a traffic-dancer. I get a certain pleasure from riding in traffic. I can ride as fast as a car can drive, and often faster. I can avoid bottlenecks, and jams easily. I love that! It's about 12 minutes to my other job. There, I ride right into the warehouse and park at my desk. The owner of Nossa Familia Coffee is an avid cyclist, so his company supports all kinds of cycling events.”

“I ride home in any weather - daylight or night. Portland is a very safe bicycling city, and I never feel afraid at night. My helmet and my bikes are well-lighted. I run most errands on my bike or on foot. My kids and I are fortunate to live near a Whole Foods, so grocery shopping happens nearly every day. I have four teenagers, so you can imagine how much food gets consumed!”

“I still love to ride for recreation, too, but I don't do long rides as often as I used to.”

What kind of bike(s) are you currently riding?

“A Trek Pilot 2.1 Road Bike with clipless pedals, and a Schwinn, 21-speed "city bike" with regular pedals”

In your opinion, what’s the best part about cycling for transportation?

“Great health/physical fitness; not buying gas or emitting all that CO2; not paying for parking; feeling like a kid - every day!”

What’s the worst?

“The condition of the roads in Portland. The rain wreaks havoc on them, and repaving is only now becoming a priority again.”

Do you have a favorite carfree/carlite story? (Something that really makes you smile or could possibly encourage others to use a bike instead of a car for transportation?)

“My sister - on her Dutch Bike - cruising around the city, looking like she's on top of the world! The transformation has been amazing to watch! She is not an athletic woman, nor does she wish to be. She always dresses nicely on her bike. She works downtown and rides every day. She and I had a bit of a competition going this winter to see "how low can you go?" We both rode every day, even when the temperatures dropped down to about 15.”

What are three pieces of advice you would give to someone starting/
considering commuting by bike?

"1) If you don't want to arrive sweaty, ride slow. 2) Don't let anyone intimidate you - drivers or other riders. Own your space! 3) Have fun!”

What changes regarding transportation would you like to see in the
United States?

“I'm seeing a lot of hoped-for changes, now that Ray LaHood is in charge of the DOT. We simply need to change the collective thinking - to a less car-centric lifestyle.”

Do you recommend cycling to friends/family members/youth or others?
Have any taken you up on it?

“My sister, who is two years older than I am, started riding and commuting by bike last September, after not having been on a bike for over 40 years. She loves it. Our brother-in-law just got a bike and is hooked on riding. Our mother wants to get a three-wheeler. She's 80. I recently assisted in a 6-week bike safety class at a neighborhood elementary school. The kids earned a "new" bike at the end of the 6 weeks. I learned way more than any of those kids did!”

Anything else you would like to add?

“Spandex and ugly cycling clothing are both optional. I only wear spandex shorts for rides over 10 miles. I think cycling should be enjoyable and comfortable. Invest in the best equipment you can afford. Add to your collection of gear and bikes as you go along.”


  1. Wow, Helen, I am really impressed and inspired by this article! Marysville (CA) - especially the rural area, where I live - isn't as "bicycle-friendly" as Portland, but I am trying to figure out a way to be able to ride into town without being hit by speeding cars on Highway 20. I love that you feel better than ever and that you are making a difference and paying it forward. Well done, my friend, I'm very proud of you! Great, insightful interview and very inspiring!

  2. Wow Helen, and to think you got your start riding around Kailua...

  3. Great article, Helen! I use to ride from Gateway to Lloyd Center to work about twice a week and even back then they had bike lanes. As you know, I also enjoy biking and I should be riding my bike 9 months out of the year to work but I don't trust the drivers here. It's getting more bike friendlier on the outskirts of Vegas.
    I love your "hippie"ness!
    Keep pedaling, my friend!

  4. Car free by choice for the past two years or so, I am a big advocate for walking, using public transportation, and for bicycles and their riders. It is wonderful to slow down, breathe and appreciate each moment. Great article, Helen!